Mark Gruenwald and the Star Spangled Symbolism of Captain America, 1985–1995


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About the Book

From 1985 to 1995, Mark Gruenwald was the head writer for Captain America. During this decade, Gruenwald wrote some of the most essential stories in Captain America’s history and guided the comic through an eventful period of both world history and comic book history. This book dissects the influence of the world at large on Gruenwald’s stories and the subsequent influence of Gruenwald’s work on the world of comics. The book’s ten chapters discuss a wide range of topics including the generational tensions inherent in a comic about a G.I. Generation hero, written by a baby boomer, for an audience of Gen Xers; the enduring threat of the Red Skull and the never-ending aura of World War II; the rising popularity of vigilante characters during the ‘90s; and how Captain America fits into the war on drugs and its “just say no” mentality. Set against the declining American patriotism of the 1980s and 1990s, this book places special emphasis on the symbolism of the most American of superheroes.

About the Author(s)

Jason Olsen is an associate professor of English at Utah State University. He lives in Price, Utah.

Bibliographic Details

Jason Olsen

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 286
Bibliographic Info: notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2021
pISBN: 978-1-4766-8150-4
eISBN: 978-1-4766-4261-1
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments v

Preface 1

Introduction: Gruenwald’s Captain America 7

Part I—Patriotism and Symbolism  31

One—Star Spangled Symbolism 33

Two—Captain ­Un-America-ed: Steve Rogers and Positive Patriotism 55

Three—Patriot and ­Super-Patriot: John Walker and Negative Patriotism 76

Four—Generation Cap: Generational Interactions in Gruenwald’s Captain America 101

Part II—Villainous Opposition  123

Five—The War That Won’t Go Away: Captain America, the Red Skull, and World War II 125

Six—The Ideological Enemy: The Gruenwald Vision of Captain America’s Antagonists 146

Seven—The Serpent Society: The Working People’s Supervillain Team 167

Part III—Death and Distraction  185

Eight—Justice vs. Justice: Challenges to Captain America’s Code of Honor 187

Nine—Fire and Ice: The Presence and Consequence of Drug Abuse 211

Ten—Mark Gruenwald’s “Fighting Chance”: Cap Faces His Own Mortality 231

Chapter Notes 247

Works Cited 261

Index 275

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “Olsen’s detailed analysis of Mark Gruenwald’s iconic run on Captain America covers an important period of the Sentinel of Liberty’s history too long ignored by academics. This book will be a valuable addition to any collection of comic book research specifically and pop culture research more generally, as well as a valuable tool in related college courses.”—Dr. Richard A. Hall, pop culture historian
  • “For long-time fans of Captain America, this is a real treat. Jason Olsen has taken a beloved Cap run, brought its ideas and stories to life, and then pulled back the curtain to show us the context and ideas behind the adventures. Star Spangled Symbolism is a well-written and thoughtful reflection on Mark Gruenwald and his most famous work, presented in an approachable style.”—Dan Newland, Comic Book Yeti