Saturday, March 10, 2007

RIP Captain America

I'm sure all the comics fanboys are aware of this already, and judging by the press coverage I've seen online, probably just about everyone else, as well. Captain America has fallen to a sniper's bullet. The hero who once punched Hitler in the jaw, was frozen in an iceberg towards the end of WWII, only to be revived in the 1960's to join the ranks of the rest of Marvel Comics' contemporary heroes.

A lot of the reactions I've seen online have centered around, the lameness of Cap as a character, and the symbolism of this death, which again many commentators see as lame.

I've got a slightly different take on this.

While I never really followed Cap's title, I had a certain affection for him as a character, especially the aspect of him being a man-out-of-time. Here was a member of what Tom Brokaw would later call the "Greatest Generation," who while still in his prime is active in contemporary society. Reading about Cap was like being able to hang out with a version of my grandfather who was still a young man, and had super-powers to boot. He represented a more decent, hard-working, less cynical America to me.

I've ruminated before on what I see as the cultural symbolism of Captain America. In that post, I commented on the Marvel Comics Civil War series, the over-arching plot which ultimately led to Cap's demise. Some of the commentary I have seen recently on this series has included the sentiment that casting Cap as a dissenter in the super-hero registration act saga was not true to his character. I must, respectfully, disagree with this view.

Because, as I said earlier, Captain America, while embodying the idealistic patriotism of the Greatest generation, was unencumbered by the cyncism and bitterness that can come with age. This paradox was part of his appeal. Just because he was the uber-patriot, and a government employee, didn't mean he was a government stooge. For instance the role he plays in Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli's classic Daredevil storyline Born Again, is more akin to Fox Mulder than Ollie North. You could say that while the government employed Steve Rogers, Captain America's true alliegance was to the American Dream. And ultimately, it was this interior conflict which indirectly killed him.

One of my favorite Captain America tales, was not an official part of the Marvel Comics canon. It was a "What if" story, from the series of the same name (issue #44), entitled "What if Captain America were revived today?" The link here is to a great essay on this issue that was published the day before the 2006 election. In this story, Cap is not revived until the mid-80's. In the mean time a Red-baiting imposter Cap from 1950s has been revived earlier, and has been used by a fascist conspiracy to turn America into a neo-fascist nightmare. The image above is a scan from that issue.
So the Dragon, for one, mourns the loss of our greatest fictional patriot. I agree with the reactions of Cap's creator Joe Simon, "We really need him now," and long time Cap writer Stan Lee, "He was the ultimate patriot, and I imagine we could use all the patriots we can get today."
Twenty-one shots for you, my friend. Three planes fly overhead, in a four plane formation. And one bugle blows "Taps."

"Well, I say America is nothing! Without its ideals--its commitment to the freedom of all men, America is a piece of trash! I fought Adolf Hitler not because America was great, but because it was fragile! I knew that Liberty could as easily be snuffed out here as in Nazi Germany! As a people, we were no different from them!
When I returned, I say that you nearly DID turn America into nothing! And the only reason you're not LESS than nothing-- is that it's still possible for you too bring freedom back to America!"
Captain America, 1941-2007


Combatscoot said...

That speaks to me on many, many levels. Did you ever get your hands on a copy of Kavalier and Clay?

Honky-Tonk Dragon said...

No, I haven't gotten one yet. Right now, I'm reading A Nomad of the Time Streams by Micheal Moorcock. It was recommended by several folks over on the Steampunk Forum, and a friend I recently visited in Seattle had a copy he was willing to loan me.
If you are into SF or imaginative Victorian themed stuff I highly recommend it.