Seventy-five years ago, Captain America made his dramatic debut on the cover of the first issue of his eponymous comic book slugging Adolf Hitler in the face a full year before the United States entered World War II. Since then, he has fought Nazis and supervillains alike in the pages of Marvel comic books and on the silver screen. Now, to celebrate the anniversary, USA Today’s Brian Truitt reports that Marvel has commissioned a 13-foot-tall bronze statue of the superhero, which will be unveiled at the upcoming San Diego Comic-Con before traveling across the country to Brooklyn, New York, where it will be installed in Prospect Park. While Brooklyn has been home to a diverse array of immigrant communities, the choice of location has some fans calling foul.
When Jack Kirby and Joe Simon first created Captain America, Steve Rogers was the son of Irish immigrants who grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. However, in recent years, both the comics and the movies have shifted Rogers’ biography so that he grew up in Brooklyn instead of Manhattan. In addition to being installed in a Brooklyn Park, the statue will also be emblazoned with the quote “I’m just a kid from Brooklyn” – a line taken from the 2011 movie Captain America: The First Avenger, Truitt reports.
Though this might seem like a nitpicky detail, it does have some interesting implications for Captain America’s backstory. Much like Kirby, who was himself the child of Jewish immigrants and grew up in the same neighborhood, Rogers’ patriotism originally stemmed not just from his love for his country, but the multicultural neighborhood that he was raised in, Teresa Jusino writes for The Mary Sue.
“The LES was a place where many immigrants — particularly Jewish, but others too— began the American Chapter in their lives,” Jusino writes. “The fact that Steve Rogers is a product of that environment is extremely important to Captain America as a symbol of what America truly stands for.”
That’s not to say that the neighborhood was a place where everyone got along. The Lower East Side may have changed over the decades, but during the early 20th century, it was a rough-and-tumble area populated by recent immigrants from all over the world. Kirby himself had complicated feelings about the Lower East Side, and he often used it as inspiration for fictional neighborhoods with names like “Suicide Slum,” Randolph Hoppe writes for the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. However, it’s undeniable that his exposure to people from many different countries and ethnic backgrounds left a mark on his comics work. Throughout his career, he created many characters with diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds – notable for an industry that is still too often populated by white, male superheroes.
Starting in the mid-19th century, waves of Eastern and Central European immigrants settled in New York's Lower East Side, making it one of the city's most-iconic immigrant neighborhoods. For fans of the comic books, that is a core part of Captain America’s history that should not be forgotten.