In case you haven’t been following the story—in the wake of a massacre of nine African Americans at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, debate is now raging over the Confederate flag. For a flag that many people—justifiably—consider a symbol of racism and oppression, the days of flying in front of the South Carolina state capitol seem numbered. Retailers including Wal-Mart have declared they won’t be selling merchandise featuring it any more. We may have seen the last replica of the General Lee from the Dukes of Hazzard.
Symbols matter, and figuring out how to deal with tainted symbols is not a new challenge. Waving the Confederate flag as a sign of “Southern pride” is not the best idea—you can be proud of barbecue, country music and SEC football without bringing the fight to maintain slavery into it. Slapping a Confederate flag onto a beach towel or bikini or the roof of a Matchbox car puts the symbol out there as if it’s benign, when in fact to some people it’s anything but.
But in our haste to stop the gratuitous use of the Confederate flag, we ought to remember to protect artistic use. To cite a very flawed comparison—you can’t make a film about the ills of Nazi Germany without showing a swastika.
So with all that’s happening around the Confederate flag, we’re reminded of a work from the not-too-distant past, one of those things that wouldn’t get greenlit today: Captain Confederacy. Captain Confederacy was a comic book about an alternate world in which the Confederacy had successfully defended its lands and established its own nation. What’s today the United States is far from united; in fact, here’s what “central North America” looks like:
Captain Confederacy ran for 12 issues in 1986-87 for Steel Dragon Press; it was later picked up by Marvel’s Epic Comics for four issues starting in November 1991. The protagonist wasn’t some vague embodiment of “Southern pride”—he starts out as a propaganda tool used by the Confederate States of America to maintain the status quo. And that status quo, in this alternate reality, isn’t pretty; the black citizens of the CSA are distinctly second-class, and the powers that be want them to stay that way.
Captain Confederacy addressed the South’s old ghosts by following history to an alternate, perhaps-logical conclusion—or tried to. As the series progressed, the South did change, later enlisting a black woman as a protegée Captain. Whether the comic was successful or merely provocative is up to readers to decide, and creator Will Shetterly invites you to do just that. You can read Captain Confederacy comics on his blog, beginning with Captain Confederacy: The Nature of the Hero and continuing through Yankee UFO and Hero Worship.
Here’s the cover of a Captain Confederacy collection and a few early pages from the first issue. Captain Confederacy and other actors are watching their latest propaganda “news story,” but not everyone is happy with business as usual:
Here’s a scene from the Epic run. Captain Confederacy, now a black woman, has a run-in with a “Southern pride”-type group calling themselves the Knights of Old Dixie: