I came across this particular image about a month and a half ago and I immediately questioned the legitimacy of the image I was seeing. Was this some fan reinterpretation or reimagining of a revered American hero? Was this actually a licensed image from Marvel comics? Here we have Captain America, former foe of the Nazi regime at his inception, resurrected from a cryogenic state after a few decades, killed during what I believe was the Marvel Civil War series of comics over the last couple years-now very well alive, in the flesh on the cover of a new comic book and looking very…uh…virile.
From the second I saw this picture I knew I had to write about it at some point. I have been meaning to lay out my thoughts in written form for quite some time. I mentioned it to some of my fellow conference goers at SC3 last month and while it generated some interest, I knew that without seeing it, my commentary thereon could only go so far! This proved to me that a new wave was breaking in the comic industry. I was very much taken aback at the image if for the sole reason that this drawing of Captain America has to be one of the most if not the most blatant instances of borrowed cultural imagery in comics from an overtly sexualized source-the pornography industry.
I have seen more than a few pornographic DVD box covers, not at all necessarily the material included therein-in particular through browsing the independent/peculiar/foreign porn section of the much respected Scarecrow Video here in Seattle. Said room is quite an interesting foray into the dusty corners of sex culture—H.P. Lovecraft-ian tentacles? Secret women of the Nazi forces? Not to mention my old roommate worked at a video store and made it a habit of bringing home the oddest pornographic videos which he liked to have as "background" visuals for our various dance parties in college—I tended to stick to the balcony or the kitchen making drinks during those "creative" decisions. Also, a fellow student in my honors English program in University wrote her Senior Thesis on some of the hard issues concerning depictions of blacks in interracial pornography. She was a tough act to follow when we had our group discussions about our topics. All in all, I'm certainly aware of some of the more common imagery propagated throughout such media. Thus, being faced with this pose that is clearly rooted in pornography in this seemingly different context, began a small revelation of sorts in how I think about popular culture imagery.
You don't have to take my word for it that this pose is extremely common for the pornography industry, especially gay pornography-a few minutes perusing through video covers will garner images with the same framing, the same dark, sultry eyes and more. You hardly have to take away the references to Americana in the background and on Captain America's shoulder before the association is made. Take away his costume entirely and no one would ever assume that this was the figure that fought for the United States America for over 50 years in comic books. I would argue that this image in particular is even more sexualized than even some covers of gay porn. It is complete with straps resembling bondage gear, he is holding what might be taken as a phallic object, and can we talk about his perfectly-unreal-yet-altogether-incredible ass?
After a while thinking about the very existence of such a piece of art makes sense. Women have been objectified in comics for decades upon decades and in much the same way as Captain America is here. While watching a recent, and might I say, quite excellent, documentary on the evolution of comics in Western culture over the last century on the History Channel, the narrator spoke extensively about the very evocative imagery in Wonder Woman comics, dating back as long as the character has been in print. Female on female bondage, lesbian undertones-Wonder Woman is perhaps the most mainstream dominatrix figure America has ever seen. Women in tight-fitting, revealing superhero garb are likely taken for granted in the 21st century. The women of the X-Men universe-regardless of their artists, mutant abilities or authors, all have one thing in common-sexy crime-fitting spandex and/or leather outfits. The time for men to be painted in a similar fashion has certainly arrived and I have yet to determine how I feel about it-at least in the grand scheme of things. Do I mind seeing Captain America in this outfit? Well, yes and no. I'm not sure how to view it in a larger cultural context, but I certainly appreciate his...assets. Is it a marketing ploy? A chance to broaden their audience? Is it a natural consequence of the growing acceptance of gay content in mainstream art? As a man, how should I feel about the exploitation of the male form in this fashion? Whatever the reason for the drawing's inception, it is fascinating to me and I look forward to hearing what other individuals investigated in popular culture have to say and investigating the phenomenon further on my own. I have issues #94 and #95 of Ultimate X-Men on my shelf which include a story-line that deserves some commentary as well.
Gay imagery-though I would not say overtly homoerotic as it is here-is also present in Ultimate X-Men, but it is surrounded by a viable context-Colossus, the metallic mutant is gay in the Ultimate X-Men series and his lover, Northstar has been kidnapped by a team of rogue mutants. The imagery in these comics never looks like the artists slapped a patriotic costume a pornstar.