So in light of the recent furor over HBO’s Confederates (life in an America where the Confederacy won its independence), I’ve been thinking of Captain Confederacy, an indie comics series by Will Shetterly and Vince Stone (cover by Stone, all rights remain with current holder) that I think handled the same premise well.
The book is set in the present day, in a world where the south won, leaving the USA and CSA glaring at each other across the Mason-Dixon Line. The rest of the country has been balkanized: The Mormon state of Desert decided not to join, California became the Bear Republic, Texas seceded from the Confederacy (“Stop them? Do I look like Lincoln?” was the president’s response). Slavery is gone but Jim Crow is alive and well.
Our protagonist, failed actor Jeremy Gray, accepted a job as guinea pig for the CSA’s supersoldier serum. Then, when the public began supporting arms talks with the north, the government got the bright idea of putting Gray into a uniform as the heroic crusader Captain Confederacy. Look, citizens of the CSA, this roving news camera captured this amazing hero exposing a Yankee plot to run guns to black revolutionaries! The arms talks are just a distraction.
The other costumed figures on the cover are Jeremy’s sidekick Miss Dixie, and the black supervillain Blacksnake, both products of the supersoldier process and both government shills.
The guy playing Blacksnake hopes this will give him some pull to reform the system from within. In #1 he accepts that this ain’t going to happen and decides to go public. The government kills him. Jeremy, a well-meaning guy who sort of blocked out how he was supporting the system, walks away from it. The government wants him back. And every other government wants him to squeeze the formula out of his veins.
Starting when it does avoids the repentant racist trope that got Black Witch such attention: The story takes the horrors of the CSA as a given and skips the years Jeremy was living passively with oppression. It is much more about how racism affects the white hero than the black population, but that said, I think it was excellent (ditto the follow-up series, Confederates).
Part of what makes it work, I think, is that Shetterly isn’t approaching it as “a turning point in history went differently, here’s what follows.” Instead he started with the present and didn’t worry much about exactly how the South won. Eventually, with help from readers (the letter columns were awesome) he worked it out. But Shetterly’s focus is more fighting the racism of the present than tracing its history.
And I really love some of the little details thrown in, like Margaret Mitchell’s best selling book Glorious Tomorrows. Or the reference in one letter column to the alt.Beverly Hillbillies, the Beacon Hillbillies (the Clampett clan wind up in Boston rather than Beverly Hills).
It’s interesting not only for the race issues it tackles but for the role of superheroes as propaganda tools, something later tackled by The American and American Way. It’s available in TPB as Captain Confederacy: The Nature of the Hero.