Browsing at a local newsstand the other day, I spied a startling comic book, issue #11 of Captain Confederacy. Its $1.95 price was even more startling (the last comic book I bought, back about aught-56, cost something like 15 cents), but I had to take this one home, and did. Let me tell you about it.

In the book, it is the present, in a South that won the Civil War. The protagonist is an actor who plays Captain Confederacy, a superhero in Confederate television propaganda films. His former girlfriend is the actress who plays the captain’s companion. Miss Dixie. There are a dozen or so supporting characters, including “Monsieur Hex,” an underground agent from Free Louisiana, and Dr. Kitsune Lee, a Japanese woman a/k/a “the White Ninja.”

The story has something to do with a resistance movement against a Confederacy that looks rather like South Africa. President Lee apparently freed the slaves in the 1870’s, but signs still say things like “Whites Only Beyond This Point.” (The Great Emancipator was the first President Lee. The current president, a woman, is a Lee, too.) Coming in at issue #11 as I did leaves much to be desired, but the plot does seem confusing, not to say silly.

Nevertheless, there’s much to enjoy here. In particular, the letters section offers some engaging speculation from readers. There seems to be general agreement that, in this world, the fragmentation of the US didn’t stop with the 1860 War. Texas soon split off from the Confederacy, and California became a separate country, too, along with adjoining parts of Mexico. To the north is the Commonwealth of Columbia, where (with no federal government to build dams) happy Native American salmon fishers have largely escaped history. Some of the letters are ingenious; one, for example, explains why the Girl Scouts are found in the Confederacy and Texas, and the Campfire Girls in the US and Deseret.

Some incidental touches are nice, too. One panel shows a can of Stars and Bars Beer; the Good Morning Dixie television program offers an offhand reference to “the Yucatan Territory uprising”; and there’s a baseball card for Fidel Castro, power-hitting left fielder for the Havana Smokes of the Confederate League. (At $2.00 a pop, I decided against a complete set of Captain Confederacy, but you can get one or all of the 12 available issues from the Steel Dragon Press, at Box 7253, Powderhorn Station, Minneapolis 55407. Yes: Minneapolis.)

The authors of Captain Confederacy are by no means the first to wonder in print about what the world would be like if the ragged legions of the CSA had swept to victory; there seem to be almost enough books on the subject for us to call it a subgenre. But they sure are hard to track down. A friend tells me that Ward Moore’s Bring the Jubilee (1953) is one example, and Harry Harrison’s A Rebel in Time (1983) is another. I’m especially determined to find the latter; it’s about a 20th-century sympathizer who travels back in time to show the Confederates how to make automatic weapons.

One of the best-known such treatments (and one I have read) is by MacKinlay Kantor, the author of Andersonville. In his unimaginatively-titled If the South Had Won the Civil War, as I recall, the South wins after Grant is thrown from a horse and killed. When slavery proves economically unviable, naturally the slaves are freed. As in Captain Confederacy, the secession of Texas reveals the inherent weakness of the Confederate constitution—or, alternatively, the devotion of Southerners to their principles. Eventually, however, Texas, the Confederacy, and what is left of the US are happily reunited after they make common cause against 20th-century totalitarianism. Kantor’s book was published in 1961, and shows it.

By now, five generations of white Southerners have enjoyed the counter-historical fantasy of Confederate victory and Southern independence. In fact, that fantasy antedates the Confederacy itself In 1860, Edmund Ruffin published Anticipations of the Future, a hostile response to the impending election of Abraham Lincoln in which the South endures eight years of Lincolnian tyranny before striking a successful blow for independence.

As time has passed, though, the image of an independent Confederate States of America has become droller. As in Captain Confederacy, the juxtaposition of Confederate imagery and the accoutrements of modern life makes for some cute effects. Here, for instance, is Will Barrett, in Walker Percy’s The Last Gentleman. Will is 20 miles from Richmond:

As he ate Ritz crackers and sweet butter, he imagined how Richmond might be today if the war had ended differently. Perhaps Main Street would be the Wall Street of the South, and Broad might vie with New Orleans for opera and theater. Here in the White Oak Swamp might be located the great Lee-Randolph complex, bigger than GM and making better cars (the Lee surpassing both Lincoln and Cadillac, the Lil’ Reb outselling even Volkswagens). Richmond would have five million souls by now, William and Mary be as good as Harvard and less subverted. In Chattanooga and Mobile there would be talk of the “tough, cynical Richmonders,” the Berliners of the hemisphere.

Sometimes, as here, images of an independent Southland are used only to amuse. Other times, though, as for Edmund Ruffin, they have served contemporary political purposes.

Consider, for instance, last October’s Country Music Association awards program. Just before Hank Williams Jr. won his second straight Entertainer of the Year Award, he regaled the TV audience with his current hit, “If the South Would Have Won (We’d Have Had It Made).” If you can leave aside the grammar (my wife can’t, or won’t), it’s quite a song.

If the South had won. Hank sang cheerfully, he’d run for President and put the Supreme Court in Texas, so murderers would swing, “instead of writing books and going on TV.” You wonder why Lloyd Bentsen and whatsisname were doomed before they started in the South?

Hank goes on. He’d have all the cars made in Carolina, and he’d “ban all the ones made in China.” (OK, so geography’s not his strong point, but all those Oriental cars do sort of look alike, don’t they?) Far be it from me to give the Democrats advice, but protectionism and xenophobia à la Gephart might have played better than what they came up with.

There’s much more where this came from, but the point is that plainly the song’s subtext was a disparaging commentary on the election of 1988. Surely it’s no accident that the idea of a victorious Confederacy made it to network television and the Billboard country music top ten at just the time last fall that some of us down here were biting our tongues while old George went on about the Pledge of Allegiance—not because we agreed with whatsisname, but because, deep down, we’re still not sure about “indivisible.”