For All Nails #235: Captain Confederation
by Carlos Yu
Yes, you heard me right. Captain Confederation is taking Mexico by storm! And what's more, the Mexicans are loving it.
Look down any avenida in the District, as I am doing at this very moment, and you will see the young of Mexico wearing versions of Captain Confederation's jack-striped uniform design on their muscle shirts, on their jackets, on armbands, and in one particularly memorable instance, on the derriere of a passing female roller skater.
I haven't seen anyone wearing Cap's cape yet. But I think it's only a matter of time.
From whence does this Captaphilia come? Don't they know there's a war on?
On the other side of the bottle, a lot of Mexicans wonder why the CNA likes reading about mari...posas in skintight costumes with magic powers who just happen to be in law enforcement so much. We know they're repressed, man, but the strain is beginning to show, tu sabes?
As usual, it's a long and boring story. Que tedioso. Pull up a chair.
In 1962, in the Summer of the Bomb, Michigan City cartoonist Isidore Weiss had what we in the journalism industry call 'a moment of clarity'. Why have a detective with only the puny powers of the CBI at hand, when you could have one with all the POWER OF THE ATOM at his command?
Yes, ALL the power of the atom! Strength, speed, heat, light, flight, and moral suasion: in short, Timothy Liddy's wish-list for 1962. And ALL the virtues of the CBI man as well: relentless, impartial, and merciful to any orphans left in his wake.
But because this detective was a special ATOMIC detective, Weiss decided he had to have a special ATOMIC uniform.
Now, Weiss was a big fan of the big muscle epics coming out of Acapulco: Hercules, The Gladiator, The Temple of the Sun. Pecs gleaming, stomachs rippling, cloaks swirling in the wind. And looking at the visual evidence, it seems Weiss stole Cap's cape from a dead legionaire:
[illo of poster art from CALIGULA, EMPERADOR DEL MUNDO here]
But obviously, under CBI regs one couldn't fight crime with a bare chest -- maybe under Mercator, and hopefully, Del Rey -- and so Captain Confederation was given an acrobat's elastic outfit, decorated with the Jack Stripes, with the hard lines of Cap's superbly muscled torso showing through like a teenage girl's bra strap.
What this had to do with the POWER OF THE ATOM no one was really sure. But it worked. Oh, how it worked.
Now the depraved among you might ask, was Weiss a Platonist? After all, he was a lifelong bachelor. However, this is not terribly unusual among those who have devoted their lives to the funny pages. Even at the height of his success, Weiss was awkward and uncomfortable around women. Again, not terribly unusual among those etc. Probably he was one of those poor unfortunates who never really had a chance to find out whether he belonged to the Academy or not.
Thus Captain Confederation was born. In later episodes we learned how the good Captain gained his special ATOMIC powers as part of a secret project to get the jump on Kramer gone terribly wrong (this sounds vaguely familiar). Weiss gave the Captain a young South Vandalian sidekick named Bucky (ahem) and an arch-criminal nemesis from an undisclosed nation to the south, one Doctor Matador (cough, cough).
Weiss was not a subtle man.
Fortunately for him, neither was the Confederation funny book reading public.
Over the next few years, Weiss developed a dozen more funny books in the "special powers" category: Mantastic, The Adversary, and for the South Vandalian market, Wilberforce! (exclamation point included). Most of them involved the well-muscled men of CNA law enforcement engaging in extremely unrealistic forays into radiochemistry, getting stranger and stranger ATOMIC powers, wearing elastic suits, and, yes, fighting crime. Of course, they were tremendously popular.
(Weiss made one attempt at describing a female special-powered character, The Atomic Nurse, who did not wear an elastic suit or fight crime, and who was pulled after only three issues due to overwhelming negative reader response. Those issues are now worth hundreds of pounds on the collector's market.)
Now one might think that, given Mexico's penchant for cultural artifacts that appeal to the lowest imaginable common denominator, that Captain Confederation would be a natural here. I mean, this is the nation that once used a cannibal cow to advertise a chain of steak houses, and quite successfully too.
But no. North American funny books were actively scorned in the United States until recently, being placed on the list of incomprehensible norteamericano foibles next to Brooklyn fries, Masonist color coordination, and vitavision series based on the works of George Eliot.
First off, Captain Confederation is freaking Starkist. Everything is run by one cabal or another. Only one good man (with ATOMIC powers) can defend the Confederation from this shadow menace. Mexico's had that, and is unabashedly cynical about the whole thing. There's another cabal? Oh, that's a surprise.
Secondly, the Platonist subtext. Not that there is anything wrong with that in Mexico, much, at least for them, but it throws the average Juan Doe off.
Third, and probably the most important: the teta-riffic factor. Mexico's had the fotonovela since the turn of the century, when the studios would run off a bunch of promotional stills and ink in sexy dialog. And they've never been shy about showing female flesh. But your typical North American funny book just doesn't have any breasts. None. It practically doesn't have women. But it does have male nipples galore:
[illo of Captain Confederation's torso area here]
Which brings us back to point two.
As you can imagine, the mammary issue happens to be very important to a nation whose press once spent a month debating whether a certain cabinet ministrix was wearing underwear to a state function or not.
So what happened?
Pure serendipity, dear readers, pure serendipity.
In 1972, Jaime Avakian was a not very good projectionist and frustrated selection committee member for the Durango State University's Campus Film Society, which principally showed Scandinavian flicks about death, incest, and lumber. Strangely enough, the Society found its attendance plummeting. Avakian, an enthusiast, suggested an animation festival to bring it back up. The rest of the committee said, si, seguro, we have tests coming anyway, whatever.
Comes the fateful day, and Avakian is nervous, sweating bullets. All the delights of the animated world lay in reels at his feet. The first one on deck is a German animated epic, "Carmilla, Wampyr Queen", which Avakian knows from magazines has a high teta-riffic quotient. She drains men dry! Avakian announces this over the microphone to a general chorus of hoots and hollers. The audience lights up their mota blunts, and Avakian trudges down the steps from the projection booth to watch.
But what's this? This is not the pale imperial seductress of Germany's secret dreams. This is some mari...posa in a cape! With some negrito making cow eyes at him! And all the writing is backwards! Comments begin to fly.
Avakian realizes immediately that some horrible mistake has been made, the distributor must have put the wrong reel in the canister, substituting that godawful norteamericano pansy in place of the beauteous Carmilla. Adding insult to injury, they must have threaded it backwards.
Face burning, Avakian begins the long trudge back up to the projection booth.
At which point the Captain lays down his first ATOMIC powered punch, "!CIMOTA" in a particolored flash.
The heckling crowd is stunned silent. Did you see that? No, it couldn't be.
The music swells, and Cap swings again. Boom! "!MOTA" It was, it was!
A third punch, and someone shouts out: "!SI MOTA!" Whoops of delight from the audience.
Avakian's instinct tells him to keep the film running. The audience, meanwhile, is improvising some truly scurrilous mota-enhanced dialogue to the hapless Captain's adventures. Where a North American audience would only find truth, justice, and the Confederation way, this one sees the louche predicaments of an interracial man-boy couple looking for the ultimate marijuana experience, and finds it hilarious.
Twenty-odd minutes later, when the feature runs to a halt, the audience begins to shout, "OTRA VEZ! OTRA VEZ! OTRA VEZ!" Play it again! At that instant, Avakian knew he had a hit on his hands.
Blessed with the business sense of his Levantine forbears, Avakian obtained the Mexican rights to the Captain's animated series from Noranimation for a song. When the footage arrived from Michigan City, Avakian used the rest of his student loan money to rent time at a Monterrey recording studio, redubbing the voice track for the first six episodes with the help of his friends. By all accounts, truly heroic quantities of mota were consumed in the process.
The episodes first aired on Durangovita, during the state cable network's Universidad Libre time slot, where Captain Confederation quickly gained an cult following, and where he was just as quickly pulled from the air... but not before Miguel Loredan, the executive producer of Sábado Gigante, had caught an episode. Loredan flew out to meet young Avakian.
Loredan offered Avakian, now working at a liquor store, a deal for the Mexican rights to the Captain Confederation series. Avakian, at the cash register, made a counter-offer: creative control, production rights. Loredan was bemused at the young man's audacity. The two of them haggled for hours at the register while grizzled veterans came in to exchange their pension checks for their weekly dose of tequila. Finally a deal was struck.
The first Captain Confederation short ran on Sábado Gigante in the fall of 1973. Only four minutes long, it showed off Avakian's combination of sophomoric mota humor and truly skewed editing skills. Viewer reaction was intense, and within weeks the Captain became one of Sábado Gigante's most popular segments. However, pressures within Sábado Gigante, which is primarily a sketch comedy show, moved Loredan to move the Captain to his own late night time slot, where he is now seen in his full half hour of caped, dubbed, backwards glory by millions of Mexicans in the lucrative eighteen to thirty demographic. Who are all getting exactly the wrong idea.
But Jaime Avakian is a happy man. Miguel Loredan is a happy man. Isidore Weiss died in 1971. One hopes that he is not unhappy. Noranimation, Ltd. is unhappy, but they sold their rights fair and square. The Mexican viewing public is happy. And the Captain, floating through iridescent clouds of pure MOTA power, he's gotta be happy.
[final illo of the Captain, looking very relaxed] FN1
Forward to FAN #236: Fox in the Henhouse.
Forward to 2 April 1975: And the Walls Came Down.
Forward to Vitavision: These Are the Journeys.
Return to For All Nails.