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Arnie Roth

Contributed by Ronald Byrd

In the 1930s, Arnie Roth was the childhood friend and protector of scrawny Steve Rogers, the youth who would be transformed into Captain America. Arnie’s “teenage Romeo” ways were apparently a cloak for his homosexuality, a not uncommon practice among gay teens. He was a sailor during World War II, and it was during this time he realized that Steve had become Captain America. Arnie fell into bad habits following the war, including a gambling addiction which he was later able to overcome through the support of his “roommate” Michael, a teacher, with whom he had been for ten years as of his reunion with Cap. However, when Arnie drunkenly boasts of his childhood friendship with Cap, the second Baron Zemo takes Michael hostage to force Arnie’s cooperation in luring Cap (who, thanks to suspended animation, of course seems much younger than Arnie despite the fact that they are the same age) into a trap. Cap makes short work of the situation and welcomes the chance to renew his friendship with Arnie.

Although writer J.M. DeMatteis never uses such words as “gay” or “lovers,” there is no doubt that Arnie and Michael are spouses. It is not clear exactly when Cap realizes this, but he accepts it with total equanimity. Unfortunately, both men are again kidnapped by Zemo, and Michael dies after his mind is transplanted into an inhuman mutate that the Baron sends against Cap. Arnie himself is later victimized by the Red Skull (who denigrates him as a “fop,” presumably the closest thing to a homophobic slur that could be used) and mind-controlled to humiliate himself before Cap. While controlled, Arnie claims to know nothing about “real, human love” and calling himself “a menace to society… a disease… Most people simply hate men like me… ” When Cap tries to rescue him, he affirms that Arnie is “as good and decent a man as I’ve ever known! They [i.e. the Red Skull and his allies] can’t corrupt your love for Michael with their lies… They’re the pariahs! They’re the disease!” This is about as definitive as it comes.

Following the defeat of the Skull and the departure of DeMatteis as writer, Arnie faded into the background, presumably recovering from his ordeal. Avengers #300 reports that he has found work as the Avengers’ publicist, but he is never actually seen in that capacity. He resurfaces in Captain America #428, returning to New York from his retirement in Florida when Cap asks him to manage the costume shop that serves as a front for the hero’s Hotline Headquarters. It is some time before Arnie reveals that he has contracted bone cancer and returned to help his friend in order to spend his last days in a useful capacity. Arnie succumbs to the disease shortly thereafter, severing what may have been Cap’s last link to his youth.

Arnold Roth was outed in Captain America #270. Aside from being a publicist, Roth was once a sailor and costume shop manager.

Thanks to Alexa for the following update. Marvel officially confirmed that Arnie and Michael were lovers in the complete Captain America CD-ROM collection. In the file that summarizes each of Cap’s adventures, Michael is explicitly referred to as Arnie’s lover when they get to this arc.

Please read “You’re My Best Friend”. 

Art by Mike Zeck.

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July 1, 2021
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