The cover of Captain America #35 is, from a cultural studies perspective, truly extraordinary. Published in February 1944, at the height of the Second World War, it confronts the reader/viewer with a dynamic tableau of good versus evil. At lower center, his hands clutching a diabolical control wheel, is the bespectacled arch-villaincomplete with Asiatic features. Protecting him (and bearing a striking resemblance to the Buddhist guardian deities at the great Nara temple Todaiji) are two muscular green henchmen, facing attack (and certain defeat!) by Captain America and an ally, who fly into the scene with alacrity. And at the center of it all, taking up fully half the vertical space in the image, sits a large Buddha statue, nearly blocking what appears to be a Japanese Imperial flag. Other than the evil scowl and blood-red mouth, the statue is a reasonable facsimile of the great bronze daibutsu statue of Ko-toku-in, Kamakura, perhaps the world’s most recognizable representation of Amida, the Buddha of compassion. This 1944 comic projects animosity against Japan as an enemy nation as well as

public perceptions (fueled by wartime propaganda) of the Japanese as a “cruel race,” as much as (if not more than) it says anything about wartime perceptions of Buddhism in the USA. But that is precisely where it is most interesting: the Buddha comes to “stand for” a whole set of perceptions and assumptions that are deeply dependent on the particular cultural, historical, and political context. The image acts as a synecdoche-or perhaps, more accurately, a cipher. Flash forward 67 years, to 2011, as the Hollywood blockbuster film (or “film-event”) Captain America is released in theaters worldwide. While the Buddha-evil or otherwise-makes no appearance in the film, the actor who plays Captain America, Chris Evans, is, it turns out, a committed, practicing, “out of the closet” Buddhist. In other words, after nearly seven decades, Captain America has converted-as apparently, have the US media. But what does this mean? And does it make a difference? By examining a few common narratives and representative tropes of Buddhism in

postwar American popular culture, this chapter limns the contours of the tension between ideology and attraction, convention and extension, appropriation and hybridity. I play Devil’s (or perhaps, Mara’s) advocate, raising questions against

those-and they are many-who would too readily dismiss or attack instances of Buddhist “appropriation” or “commodification” by the forces of contemporary popular or consumer culture.1