Marvel and Cuba: Thor’s Castro Connections

Journey_in_to_mystery084-07Journey Into Marvel – Part 46

Extremites, historical perspective changes depending upon when it is being looked at.

If, for instance, I was examining WWI in 1963, I might focus on the importance of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination in the causation of the war. However, if I was examining the same time frame from the vantage point of my desk in 2014, I might change the focus  to the Treaty of Vienna, or even the Napoleonic War.

The literature that we write in the present of our time is the best glimpse into the minds of people who live in that time. This applies best with comics.

Comics are pulpy high consumption mass media. They are structured to appeal to a wide range of people.  They often reflect common beliefs and fears of those who write and read them.

The comic descends from cartoonish political satires that were featured in newspapers.  They functioned as editorials on politicians and ideas. Over time, these single satirical panels developed into long form narratives which formed whole stories. This heritage has never been more clear then in this Thor adventure.

Today’s issue is a zeitgeist satire of the political events in Cuba during 1962.

The US has always had a very close connection to its island neighbour.

Cuba is ninety nautical miles off the coast of Florida. The island has always been a trade gateway to North America. After the slave uprising in Haiti, the slave trade — the most important industry in the foundation of the US — moved through the Spanish ports of Cuba. Rum and tobacco, essential to 18th Century North America, were first cultivated here.  An incident involving an attack on a American frigate, docked in Havanna, inflamed the Spanish-American War. Cuba has always been a major part of American foreign policy.

fidel-castro-smIn 1959, the Communist rebels, under Fidel Castro, forced Baptista, the longtime Cuban president, to leave the island and seek asylum in the United States. Castro installed a Communist government on the island making an anti-Capitalist country only a few hours sail from Miami. Nikita Krushchev, First Secretary of the Soviet Union, opened up an alliance with Castro and a Cold War showdown began.

In 1961, after hasty planning with the CIA (and the Mafia), President John Kennedy ordered an invasion of the island. Called the Bay of Pigs fiasco, it was an utter failure. Those who were not gunned down attacking the island were captured by the regime. Furthermore, the invasion attempt pushed Cuba into the arms of the USSR.

The events in Cuba weighed heavy on Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. This issue is a 14 page extended allegory of what was called back then: “The Cuba Crisis.”

The story is as follows:

In a fictional central American republic, San Diablo, a new communist  ‘El Presidente’ has seized control. His name is The Executioner. Note, he is not the later villain known by the same name, these two have no connection. Dr. Don Blake, having returned from his vacation in Norway, hears about the incursion and volunteers to act as a medical liaison. The Executioner orders a MiG jet to destroy the ship of American volunteers. Little does he know that Thor, in the guise of Don Blake, is on board and the Executioner just declared war on America’s favourite Asgardian. After Jane Nelson  — Jane Foster’s first appearance, but for some reason, under a different name — is kidnapped by the Executioner, Thor defeats the Communists and San Diablo is once more a friend to the United States.

Thor vs. The MiG.

Thor vs. The MiG.

The story is bland. There is not an exciting moment in the lot of it. It’s obvious, from the outset, that Thor will defeat this moustachioed Latin tyrant because he’s a mortal.

What are guns up against a god?

Not even the kidnap of Jane is a credible threat because the Executioner declares that he will marry her; taking any real threat of execution out of the situation.

The suspense just isn’t there in this one. Perhaps, this is in some part due to the oppressive rules of the Comics Ethic Code.

None of this matters, though, because Kirby and Lee are more concerned with securing Thor as an emblem of American Patriotism, than a rip-roaring story.

Kirby and Lee want Marvel’s own version of Superman.

During World War II, and the early Fifties, Superman was an iconic mascot of American patriotism. In my article that tackles Thor’s debut, I talked about Lee and Kirby’s reliance on the DC model in Thor’s creation. Today’s issue debuted a month later and was meant to secure Thor as the new flag bearer of Marvel American hopes.

America, a month later, could have used a real life Thor, for the ‘Cuba Crisis’ grew into a World crisis . The events of October 1962 would serve as a model for super-villain plots of the next 30 years.

True life is far scarier then anything in a comic book.

Until next time, Extremites, I remain: Julian Munds.

Story I Read: The Mighty Thor vs. The Executioner” (Journey Into Mystery #84 Sept. 1962)

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Pros: Some excellent Kirby art.

Cons: An obvious two dimensional stereotype, thinly veiled allegory, and lack of story.

Previous Review: Return of the Ant-Man” (Tales to Astonish #35 Sept. 1962)

Upcoming Review:It Came From The Skies!” (Fantastic Four #7 Oct. 1962)

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About Julian Munds

I possess a degree in Theatre and Drama from the University of Toronto. I own my own theatre company called Snobbish Theatre. We focus our work on new versions of classics.

Posted on March 22, 2014, in Comics, Marvel, Thor and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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