Super-Nazis and Axis Adversaries

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From Tales of Suspense #67 © 1965 Marvel Comics. ART BY JACK KIRBY AND FRANK RAY (FRANK GIACOIA).

Super-Nazis and Axis Adversaries

(pop culture)
If the Nazis did not exist, comic books would have had to invent them. In the early days of comics, superheroes fought against corrupt politicians, evil scientists, greedy landlords, and a host of other pseudo real-life menaces that could be defeated with relatively little effort. Writers and publishers began to wonder where they could find a foe worthy of their brainchildren. Fortunately—for comics, if not comic-book scholarship that would one day study the World War II books in earnest—they had to look no further than their daily newspapers or radio newscasts, from which they learned all about a real-life European madman named Adolf Hitler. Der Führer spoke of a master race that would rule the world, grinding under its hob-nailed boot everyone they deemed inferior, including all members of a religious faith that many comics creators espoused. Hitler was the perfect arch-villain. Writers and artists could fight the Nazis on the printed page and get paid for it, all before America officially fought in World War II. The cover of Captain America Comics #1, dated March 1941, shows a very patriotic “Cap” giving Hitler a sock in the puss months before the attack on Pearl Harbor put America squarely on the map. Nazis and super-Nazis bedeviled superheroes throughout the war as they fought heroes like Captain Flag, the Justice Society of America—christened, for the duration of the war, the Justice Battalion—the Boy Commandos, and many others, in stories that had to do with the unwitting betrayal of military secrets and the necessity of presenting a united front against the Axis powers, unifying all Americans, regardless of race, creed, or gender. Unfortunately, such ringing declarations of American solidarity lasted only until the end of the war, at which time women, Jews, and Negroes were told to return to the back of the bus. Chronologically, super-Nazis come in two varieties: those who fight in stories set in World War II, and those who continue the bad fight after the war, into the twenty-first century. Baron Blitzkrieg was introduced in a Wonder Woman story in World's Finest Comics #246 (1977) by Gerry Conway and Don Heck. The Baron was a concentration camp commandant whose face was disfigured by acid thrown by a rebellious inmate. Hitler ordered his scientists to try to reconfigure the man's face and, while they were at it, “had his scientists execute a long-developed plan that tapped the commandant's latent psychic powers.” He donned golden armor with magenta trim and fought Superman, Wonder Woman, and the All-Star Squadron, among others, and is reportedly active as a terrorist in the twenty-first century, calling himself the Baron. Baroness Paula Von Gunther, from her first appearance in Sensation Comics #4, 1942 (in a Wonder Woman story penned by Charles Moulton and drawn by H. G. Peter), attempted to make American women spy for Nazi Germany through any means: blackmail, torture, or murder. Despite possessing no superpowers, she was one of Wonder Woman's worst enemies until reformed by the Purple Ray on the Amazons' Transformation Island, after which she became a staunch ally of the Amazon. Baroness Von Gunther, portrayed by Christine Belford, appeared in a 1976 episode of the Wonder Woman television show, “Wonder Woman Meets Baroness Von Gunther.” Captain Nippon debuted in Captain Marvel Jr. #2 (1942), one of the few Japanese super-agents to appear in comics. He was a spy before he was given, by evil sorcerers, enough raw power to go one-on-one with Junior. He wore a loose-fitting soldier's uniform and carried a spiked club, as opposed to another villain also called Captain Nippon, who had a hook in lieu of a right hand and a red sunburst on his forehead, and wore green tights and a cowl. He fought Captain Courageous, who appeared in Banner Comics in 1941 by Ace Periodicals. The Hate Monger, in his first appearance in Fantastic Four vol. 1 #21 (1963), by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, was found, after his death, to be a clone of Adolf Hitler. However, Nazi scientist Arnim Zola gave him the ability to transfer his consciousness to other cloned bodies, so it is virtually impossible for his death to have any permanence. He once used a weapon, the “H-ray,” which was capable of stimulating hatred in others and converting other emotions to hate, but now the villain became capable of performing those feats on his own. Following his resurrection by the Cosmic Cube, the Hate Monger essentially became an energy being, capable of regenerating severed limbs. When he has all his limbs he wears a purple jumpsuit and a pointed hood monogrammed with an “H.” Though once destroyed, he was resurrected by the Red Skull in the pages of Captain America, and continues to spread his poison, sometimes using the civilian name “Adam Hauser.” Per Degaton debuted in All Star Comics #35 (1947) in a story by John Broome and Irwin Hasen as an ambitious laboratory assistant of Professor Malachi Zee. He stole Zee's time machine and attempted to conquer the world by altering the past, including the deployment of an army in uniforms that looked suspiciously Nazi-like. Just two issues later, in All Star #37, Degaton appeared as a member of the original Injustice Society of the World, wearing the same black outfit with a “D” on the chest. He had red hair and was a little guy, but we all know how troublesome little guys can be. Defeated by the Justice Society of America (JSA), all memories of Degaton's conquests faded from his mind as the true timeline resumed. Dr. Zee was later revealed to be a former member of a group of scientists called the Time Trust, and Degaton would again and again attempt to defeat the JSA, his final plan inadvertently leading to his suicide in America vs. the Justice Society #4 (1985). However, since he is a time-traveler, this may not be the last time Per Degaton is heard from. Red Panzer has had many incarnations. He debuted in Wonder Woman vol. 1 #228 (1977), in a story by Martin Pasko and Jose Delbo, as Nazi Helmut Streicher, a soldier who donned invulnerable body armor and a silver helmet with a swastika and fought Wonder Woman and other members of the JSA in the 1940s. Decades later, a neo-Nazi took the name of the Red Panzer and was slain attacking the modernday Wonder Woman and the super-heroine Troia. This second Red Panzer's son— who was put up for adoption by his father because he was half black—then took the name and armor, joining Tartarus, a team of villains formed by Vandal Savage, and was killed in combat. Savage offered an operative of the criminal organization H.I.V.E., known only as Justin, the chance to become the fourth Red Panzer and join Tartarus, though he soon quit that organization and relocated to Zandia, where he fought Young Justice. Justin is unique among all Red Panzers; he does not espouse the Nazi philosophy, but is a nihilist. Nazis continue to serve as villains in popular culture, such as in Steven Spielberg's 1981 film Raiders of the Lost Ark, in which the protagonist, Indiana Jones (as portrayed by Harrison Ford), sums up his feelings about the Master Race succinctly: “Nazis. I hate these guys.” However, even “fans” of Nazis-as-villains realize they must be used sparingly to retain their effectiveness. Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, interviewed in 2001 about his project The Conqueror Worm, said: “My feeling is this is that last time I'm going to deal with the whole Nazi thing. It's too easy to use the Nazis now.” But as long as there are comic books, it seems there will be Nazi antagonists; they're just too bad to abandon for good.