King Kirby, Captain America and American History

A guest post by commenter Fabio Paolo Barbieri on one of the legendary comic book artists, Jack “King” Kirby, his greatest comic book creation, Captain America, and Kirby’s trip through American history with the Captain:

With Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles we at last reach a masterpiece within the meaning of the act.  The Marvel Treasury Edition format in which it was published, though suffering from the same bad production values as the regular titles, tried for a more upmarket and collectable air: instead of slim pamphlets with floppy covers, padded out with cheapo ads, they had 80 large pages, no ads, and more durable hard(ish) covers. On the whole, it was an unhappy compromise without future, but Kirby, who had seen formats and production values decline throughout his career, grasped the opportunity of more elaborate work than the regular format allowed.  (Artists of Kirby’s generation are often heard commenting on the quality of paper and colouring available to today’s cartoonists, even when they don’t read the stories; bad printing had been such a fundamental reality to their period that improved paper stock and technology are the one thing that stands out when they see a new comic.) Captain-America-Bicen-01fc That is not to say that it is flawless everywhere; few details of title, packaging and secondary material could be worse.  That anyone could come up with such a title as Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles would be incredible had it not happened; its clanging, flat verbosity belongs more to the kitsch of 1876 than of 1976 – “Doctor Helzheimer’s Anti-Gas Pills”.  The pin-ups that pad out the awkwardly-sized story (77 pages), with Captain America in various pseudo-historical costumes, are positively infantile, the front cover is dull and the back one ridiculous.  Nothing shows more absurdly the dichotomy between Kirby’s mature, thoughtful, even philosophical genius and the bad habits of a lifetime at the lowest end of commercial publishing coming on top of a lower-end education; the nemesis, you might say, of uneducated self-made genius.  The Kirby who did this sort of thing was the Kirby who filled otherwise good covers with verbose and boastful blurbs, who defaced the English language with “you matted masterpiece of murderous malignancy!” and the like, who cared nothing for precision and good taste – in short, the man whose lack of education lingered in his system all his life. Kirby went into his work with less inherited “baggage” than any other cartoonist, and was correspondingly radical and revolutionary, but he also had little share in common taste and standards. (more…)

Published in: on February 28, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on King Kirby, Captain America and American History  
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POW Servant of God

kapaun

In the midst of a World War, Emil Kapaun was born in peaceful Pilsen, Kansas on August 20, 1916.  His parents were Czech immigrants and virtually everyone in the area spoke Czech.  From an early age Emil knew that he wanted to be a priest and would play mass with his younger brother.  Graduating from Conception Abbey seminary college in Conception Missouri in 1936,  Emil attended Kendrick Theological Seminary in Saint Louis, and was ordained a priest of the diocese of Wichita in June 1940.  Father Kapaun returned to his home parish Saint John Nepomucene in Pilsen as an assistant to Father Sklenar who, together with his Bishop, had paid the cost of his attendance at the seminary.  During these years Father Kapaun was also an auxiliary chaplain at Herington Air Base.  After the retirement of Father Sklenar in December 1943, Father Kapaun became pastor of his boyhood parish.  Receiving permission from his Bishop, Father Kapaun joined the army as a chaplain in July 1944.

Chaplain Kapaun’s intial assignment was as chaplain at Camp Wheeler in Georgia.  In April 1945 he was sent to the C-B-I (China-Burma-India) theater of operations.  While in the C-B-I he traveled over 2000 miles by jeep to say mass for the troops in the forward areas.  Arriving in India he served as a chaplain for the troops on the Ledo road from Ledo, India to Lashio, Burma.   Chaplain Kapaun became friends with the Catholic missionaries, priests and nuns from Italy, at Lashio.  Taking up a collection for the missions from American troops, who responded generously, Father Kapaun also prevailed upon American combat engineers to construct a building in Lashio to be used as a school and a church.  Here is a picture of Father Kapaun, viewer’s right, along with his trusty jeep, while he was in the C-B-I.

father-kapuan-c-b-i

Promoted to Captain, he remained in the C-B-I until May of 1946 and was mustered out of the Army in July 1946.  With the approval of his Bishop, Father Kapuan enrolled at Catholic University in Washington on the G.I. Bill, and obtained a Master’s degree in education in February 1948.  In April his Bishop appointed him pastor in Timken, Kansas in April 1948.  Believing that he was called to be a chaplain for the troops, and with the consent of his Bishop, Father Kapaun rejoined the army as a chaplain in September 1948.

Serving as a chaplain at Fort Bliss, Father Kapaun was ordered to Japan in 1950.  Upon the outbreak of the Korean War, he was assigned to a front line combat unit, the 3rd battalion, 8th cavalry regiment, 1rst Cavalry Division. (more…)

Published in: on February 27, 2013 at 5:35 am  Comments (3)  
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POW Servant of God To Receive Medal of Honor

On April 11, 2012 Father Emil Kapaun, the POW Servant of God, will receive posthumously this nation’s highest decoration for heroism, the Medal of Honor:

The Pentagon is expected to invite several of Kapaun’s fellow former prisoners of war to attend the ceremony. They survived horrific conditions in the prison camp after they were captured in the first battles against the Chinese Army in late 1950, shortly after China entered the Korean War.

All of these soldiers, now in their mid- or upper 80s, have lobbied for more than 60 years to persuade the Army to award Kapaun the Medal of Honor.

They also have lobbied the Roman Catholic Church to elevate him to sainthood. The Vatican recently completed an extensive investigation and is considering the matter.

Soldiers like Mike Dowe, William Funchess, Robert Wood, Robert McGreevy and Herb Miller, most of them Protestants, have spent decades writing letters or giving interviews describing repeated acts of bravery by Kapaun. They said he repeatedly ran through machine gun fire, dragging wounded soldiers to safety during the first months of the war.

They said his most courageous acts followed in a prisoner of war camp, where Kapaun died in May 1951. They said he saved hundreds of soldiers’ lives using faith and the skills honed on his family’s farm near Pilsen. (more…)

Justice Hathorne

He pointed his finger once more, and a tall man, soberly clad in Puritan garb, with the burning gaze of the fanatic, stalked into the room and took his judge’s place.

“Justice Hathorne is a jurist of experience,” said the stranger. “He presided at certain witch trials once held in Salem. There were others who repented of the business later, but not he.”

“Repent of such notable wonders and undertakings?” said the stern old justice. “Nay, hang them–hang them all!” And he muttered to himself in a way that struck ice into the soul of Jabez Stone.

Stephen Vincent Benet, The Devil and Daniel Webster

In his short story The Devil and Daniel Webster, Benet has Satan conjure up the damned souls of 12 villains from American history to serve as a jury in the case of Satan v. Jabez Stone. Only seven of these entities are named, and we have examined the lives of each of them including the “life” I made up for the fictional the Reverend John Smeet.

The judge who presided over the case was Justice John Hathorne.  Born in August of 1641, Hathorne was a merchant of Salem, Massachusetts.  Hathorne prospered as a merchant with trading ventures to England and the West Indies.  He owned land around Salem and in Maine.  With economic power he combined political power, being Justice of the Peace in Essex County, and a member of the legislative upper chamber which combined the roles of legislature and high court.  In 1692 Hathorne was one of the men who questioned the accusers and accused and was in favor of bringing the accused to trial.  He was appointed by the Governor of Massachusetts as one of the judges of the Special Court of Oyer and Terminer that heard the trials.  Hathorne always voted to convict.

Subsequent to the trials he saw service in the militia in King William’s War, taking part in 1696 in the siege of Fort Nashawaak in what became New Brunswick in Canada and rising to the rank of Colonel.  He was eventually appointed to the Superior Court.  He died on May 10, 1717.

Following the Salem witch trials, there was a wave of revulsion at the verdicts.  Few doubted at that time that witches did exist, but many attacked the fairness of the trials, especially the concept of “spectral evidence” which allowed the accusers to testify as to what demons purportedly told them about the accused.  Many people found this admission of supernatural hearsay to be not only fundamentally unfair but preposterous and feared that the accusers had been simply settling old family feuds with the accused.  (more…)

February 25, 1863: National Bank Act

Greenback

Originally called the National Legal Currency Act, the National Bank Act was signed into law on February 25, 1863.  The Act created National Banks that could issue notes printed by the United States Treasury that would serve as currency, the famous Greenbacks.  Precisely one year before the Congress had authorized the treasury to issue paper currency in an amount not to exceed 150 million dollars.  Although the move to a fiat currency not backed in gold was widely unpopular around the country, the nickname of the notes, Greenbacks, coming from people complaining that the notes were backed only by the green ink used to print the backs of the notes, when the economic house did not fall in from the issuance of the Greenbacks in 1862, Congress placed no limits on the issuance of the currency in February of 1863. (more…)

Published in: on February 25, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on February 25, 1863: National Bank Act  
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February 24, 1863: Creation of Union Arizona

The creation of an Arizona territory had been derailed prior to the Civil War out of Northern fears that this new territory would become a slave state.  That these fears were not unjustified was demonstrated during the Civil War when some Arizona settlers established the Confederate territory of Arizona.  Go here to read about the creation of this territory.  By 1863 the fortunes of war had swept the Confederate territorial government of Arizona out of the territory and into El Paso.  (more…)

Published in: on February 24, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on February 24, 1863: Creation of Union Arizona  
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Marching Song of the First Arkansas

Something for the weekend.  Tennessee Ernie Ford gives a stirring rendition of the Marching Song of the First Arkansas Colored Regiment, one of the more famous endless variants of The Battle Hymn of the Republic. (more…)

Published in: on February 23, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Marching Song of the First Arkansas  
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February 23, 1943: First Steel Pennies Minted in the US

During World War II shortages in copper caused the Treasury to begin minting on February 23, 1943 pennies made of zinc covered steel.  The new pennies were 13% lighter than the old pennies.  It seemed like a good idea at the time, but problems quickly cropped up.  The steel pennies were easily confused with dimes.   The zinc steel alloy was magnetized and magnets in vending machines, which picked out slugs, now also picked out the steel pennies.  Worst of all, the steel pennies easily rusted when exposed to any moisture, including human sweat.  The public outcry against the steel pennies was immediate and persistent. (more…)

Published in: on February 22, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on February 23, 1943: First Steel Pennies Minted in the US  

Blackbeard

There was Teach, the bloody pirate, with his black beard curling on his breast.

Stephen Vincent Benet, The Devil and Daniel Webster

In his short story The Devil and Daniel Webster, Benet has Satan conjure up the damned souls of 12 villains from American history to serve as a jury in the case of Satan v. Jabez Stone. Only seven of these entities are named. This is the seventh in a series giving brief biographies of these men. Go here to read the biography of Simon Girty, here to read the “biography” of the Reverend John Smeet,  here to read the biography of Major Walter Butler, here to read the biography of Thomas Morton here to read the biography of King Philip, and here to read the biography of Governor Thomas Dale.  Our final member of the jury of the damned is Edward Teach, better known to history as Blackbeard.

It is odd that Blackbeard is almost the only pirate from the colorful Age of Piracy in the Sixteenth-Eighteenth centuries that most members of the general public could name, because he had a very short career, only two years, and was much less successful than many pirates, for example Henry Morgan, who achieved a knighthood and the office of Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica.

Teach was probably born in Bristol, England in 1680.  He may have served as a privateer in Queen Anne’s War.  In 1716 the pirate Benjamin Hornigold placed Teach in command of a sloop, and together the duo committed numerous acts of piracy.  In 1717 Teach captured a French merchant ship, renamed her Queen Anne’s Revenge and armed her with 40 guns, a formidable armament for a pirate ship.  His fame began to spread.  His nickname, Blackbeard, came from the long black beard he wore.  Teach adopted a fearsome personae in order to overawe the crews of the ships that he captured.  He lit fuses dangling from beneath his cap to enhance his image as a completely ruthless pirate. (more…)

Published in: on February 21, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Blackbeard  
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February 20, 1863: Battle of the Handkerchiefs

Women of New Orleans

 

Union veterans often noted that the most determined rebels that they encountered during the War were not the men, but the ladies of Dixie.  So it was on February 20, 1862 in New Orleans.  Approximately 400 Confederate prisoners of war were to be placed aboard a steamboat and taken upriver to be exchanged for Union soldiers.  A huge number of women, some accounts say 20,000, gathered on the New Orleans levee to cheer the prisoners, wave their handkerchiefs at them and sing Confederate songs. (more…)

Published in: on February 20, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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