Iron Nail… Cap’s newest villain. Inventing a Cap villain can’t be easy. Any new character is immediately compared to the Red Skull, among the most iconic villains in comics, right up there with Batman’s the Joker. Given Cap’s WWII, flag-waving origin, it’s not surprising that the Red Skull, was (and is) a Nazi. As any life-long reader of Marvel Comics knows, Nazis are always the worst villains in the Marvel Universe. In fact, Hitler’s ageless cronies are still going strong: The Red Skull and his team of evil agents, Baron Zemo, Baron von Strucker, and the brilliant but mad Armin Zola, a.k.a. the Bio-Fanatic. And then there is the one villain that even the Skull and Zola bow to: the Hate Monger, who made his first appearance in Fantastic Four #21 (1963; Lee/Kirby).
In Super-Villain Team Up #17 (1980; Gillis/Jones and Patterson), the Hate Monger allies himself with the aforementioned Red Skull and the Bio-Fanatic to recreate the all-powerful Cosmic Cube. As part of the process, the Bio-Fanatic uses Jewish slaves as bio-computers. They will all die, but, as the Skull notes, the Nazis “have an adequate stock of replacement parts.” When the Israeli secret agent Rachel leads a Shin Bet brigade—the Israeli equivalent of the Green Berets—against the villains’ stronghold, she and her team are taken captive. Escaping, she alerts S.H.I.E.L.D., who launches an invasion of this secret Nazi island. As the paratroopers begin their assault, the Hate Monger rushes to Zola’s lab. Yes, the Cube is ready:
Zola: … Herr Hate Monger! What do you want?
Hate Monger (peeling off his mask): Do not call me by that stupid pseudonym! You know who I am! Now and forever, I am Adolph Hitler!
And, of course, Cap has just returned from Dimension Z, where he, yet again, fought Zola.
That Nazis have continued to play such a large role in the Marvel Universe should not be a complete surprise. As detailed in any number of books on the early comic book industry, Stan Lee and many of his cohorts were Jewish, and the Holocaust’s shadow is a long and painful one. And while Marvel is now a far larger and more complicated company, these Nazi characters, so far as villains go, remain useful and valuable. But Nazis can’t do it all. What about communists and the so-called “Red Menace,” which only became a geopolitical reality when Cap was frozen like Atlantic Cod?
Yes, most of us know that there was another Cap (detailed in Captain America #155-6; 1972; Buscema/Englehart), a replacement, who fought American communists. But Steve himself only faced the Viet Cong a handful of times (See Lee/Kirby’s “The Strength of the Sumo,” Tales of Suspense #61/1965; Lee/Colan’s Captain America #125/1970). There is, moreover, something anti-capitalist in Steve’s egalitarianism. He’s never been a money-guy. Sure, he’d workout at the old Avengers mansion, but he was no preppy. He remains a working class hero. His apartment was for years in Brooklyn Heights, where he, among other things, worked as a commercial artist and started a national Captain America Hotline (see Gruenwald/Neary’s Captain America #312; 1985). And remember what he told Tony at the height of Marvel’s epic Civil War: “You really think I’m going down… to some pampered punk like you?”
Enter Iron Nail, a hardcore Maoist of Asian descent. Recreating the labor camps of the Gang of Four, Iron Nail has imprisoned the super wealthy for being… well… super wealthy. When one businessman complains that he just can’t handle enforced labor, Iron Nail reminds him that he and his kind (bankers) almost ruined the world’s economy. The same manual labor that this prisoner finds intolerable is simply the lot that most of humanity endures on an ongoing basis.
It is hard to feel sorry for bankers, even fictional bankers, but the question is, does a communist make a good foil for Cap? Remender seems to think so. In a recent interview on the character, he stated that:
“I wanted to put Cap against somebody who was opposed to him in almost all aspects and then show how that person went from being one of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s top agents and somebody who used to believe in the American dream [to being] disenfranchised and in love with Mao’s manifesto but amplified and seeing it as not even far enough… I wanted to write him in a way that his Communism [is] turned up to 11, but still in some way relatable.
The more I wrote down his motives and his thinking and how he sees the world, how he wants to change the world, it became more apparent to me that he is perfectly, inversely opposed to Captain America in most ways and really is a perfect villain for him.”
Of course, characters (heroic and villainous) develop over time, so Iron Nail is likely far from a finished product. But Iron Nail’s empty rhetoric echoes that of DC’s Ra’s al Ghul; further, by the end of issue # 15, we are introduced to yet another new villain, a super soldier who uses psychotropic drugs to control his victims. His name is “Dr. Mindbubble” — cheesy enough — but, far worse, he looks a heck of a lot like the Riddler, and his limited skill set suggests he’s a run-of-the-mill Scarecrow. These Batman-infused themes might work better if Steve were more like Bruce, or, at least, like Bruce, as rich as Midas. A communist foil works in terms of Captain America’s role as a sentinel of liberty, and, certainly, the labor camp here applies; but in terms of Cap as a symbol of unfettered capitalism, well… that is likely a poor investment.