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Steve Rogers and soup mascots battle waste! Wait, what? – Captain America and the Campbell Kids

January 9, 2015

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Comic book giveaways in which superheroes are pimped alongside name brands aren’t uncommon. In these virtual pages we’ve looked at such spell-binders as Superman and Wonder Woman promoting science under Radio Shack auspices, and Spider-Man battling crime and tooth decay with the backing of Aim toothpaste (the Dr. Pepper of oral care). What is rare is for the capes and tights champions to share space with the mascots of their momentary corporate partners. That’s what we have today, as Captain America stands shoulder to shoulder with the short, cherubic, big-eyed Campbell Kids. To promote energy conservation. As in electricity/natural gas energy, not the caloric kind.

What the what now?

This truly is one of the more bizarre PSA comics ever produced, thanks to the presence of the Campbell Kids and the nonsensical tie-in with the Department of Energy. (Did Campbell have a nuclear power plant as part of their corporate holdings? A contract to provide hot soup to utility workers in chilly climes? What am I missing here?) You don’t see them as much in advertising anymore, but the Kids were once the eminently recognizable faces the most venerable of soup brands, before its label became synonymous with Andy Warhol, omnipresent enough to spawn their own collecting community, much like Coca-Cola/Pepsi/etc. Sadly, the cover’s promise of this tiny boy and girl either A) being rescued by Captain America or B) kicking ass side by side with Captain America is just a tease. Nowhere in this comic’s pages do they share narrative space. The closest we get is in the intro on the inside front cover, one that starts the book-long conservation guilt trip:

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(Not to get all uppity, but isn’t using the tracing paper somewhat wasteful too? Or are you supposed to use it to insulate your house after you’re done or something?)

Instead of tagging along on a Captain America adventure, the Kids function as a Greek chorus, narrating the events of the story. And what exactly is said plot, written by Bill Mantlo with art by Al Kupperberg, Herb Trimpe and Dan Green? It’s centered on a sprawling science fair, where the good Captain meets up with some racially diverse, scientifically bright youngsters who may have a thing or two to learn about not pissing away energy:

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The fair is hijacked by three superpowered villains, whose fiendish abilities play off of the energy theme. They get the better of Cap at first, so he and his young troop retreat to another portion of the fair, where he improbably pauses in a home display to teach them about what disgusting energy hogs they are — it’s like the Jimmy Carter sweater speech, but in star-spangled tights instead:

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Shaming them about their bathing regimens may give them complexes (and his example doesn’t really prove anything, when you think about it), but it comes in handy in the end, since after CA is captured by the nasties they use their new energy-saving knowledge to rescue him and save the day. Hooray! But that’s just a part of the doings in this book. As promised, there are a number of other features, including puzzles and games, like the maze below, which features the three one-off antagonists:

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And there’s also this two page spread, which traces the history of energy in America. Kind of neat, though the implication in the lower right-hand corner that we’d be dressing like the Jetsons in 2001 was a tad off.

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And if the story and the hazarai weren’t enough to sate your energy-saving lust, you could get a genuine Energy Diploma from the Department of Energy — since most were likely consigned to rubbish heaps (GASP!), surely one of the more difficult to find bits of Captain America ephemera:

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So this happened. Captain America took time out of his busy superhero schedule to rap the knuckles of energy-wasting teens, and the Campbell Kids, with their giant Stewie Griffin craniums, were a part of the show. And this wasn’t one of the wafer-thin giveaways, as the story proper goes on and on and on, not even considering the extras. People put a heck of a lot of time and effort into this. Maybe Marvel got their hands on some good old federal government pork, courtesy of the Department of Energy, and decided what the hell, let’s make the most of it.

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